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Cistercian architecture

Cistercian architecture is a typical architecture of the buildings of the monastic order of the Cistercians, founded in 1098 in Cîteaux, France, by a group of Benedictine monks; born and developed within the Burgundian Romanesque, it differs from it for some peculiar characteristics, and for the early introduction of some elements that experienced great development in the Gothic period.
The principles of the new religious architecture were established by Bernard of Clairvaux, who in 1115 founded a new abbey daughter of Cîteaux in Clairvaux . In 1134, on the occasion of the renewal of the Cistercian complex of Saint-Denis, Bernardo enunciated for the first time some basic rules of Cistercian architecture, which can be summarized as follows: rejected any painted or sculpted decoration, also banned the use of stained glass , the abbeys had to reflect the sober severity of the Benedictine rule both in the structure of the buildings and in the location, which had to be placed in isolated places, also underlining the closure to the earthly world through the construction of high walls all around the complex. The interior of the church had to be strictly bare, devoid of ornaments, frescoes or precious furnishings, as all this could represent a distraction from prayer and divine contemplation. Within the enclosure of the abbey, the layout of the buildings always followed the same pattern: the church was oriented with the apse to the east, and had the southern wall adjacent to the quadrangular cloister. On the latter, along the south side, the refectory, the kitchen and the calefactorium (heated room) opened; the western portico led to the conversi’s wing and the cellarium (pantry); on the eastern side were finally located the chapter house, the parlor and a meeting room for the monks, above which the dormitory was located. Some service buildings necessary for the life of the abbey were built around the monastery: a guesthouse, a chapel for women and foreigners, granaries, stables and workshops of various kinds.

The architects of the Cistercian complexes were the monks themselves, who designed the buildings and participated in the construction work. The Cistercian church, like much of the secular ecclesiastical architecture in Burgundy, had a basilica plan with three naves: the main one, divided into rectangular spans covered by barrel vaults, ended in the rectangular apse; the transept, devoid of apses, was enriched in some cases by a rectangular ambulatory. The facade was usually introduced by a portico, and the bell tower was absent. With a certain advance compared to the gradual development on a European scale of the Romanesque in the Gothic, the pointed arch, the pointed vaults, the composite pillars were adopted in the Cistercian churches. The monastery also always included a building used for work, a grange and a forge, constructions supported by bare external wall buttresses and covered by wooden trussed roofs. Among the most representative examples of Cistercian architecture, the abbey church of Fontanay, in France, erected between 1139 and 1147, stands out; however, the Clairvaux model was applied in the construction of all the abbeys of the order in Europe, with some local variations.


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